HEALTH

by Ben Taylor

Dr Elsa, the mobile app for health workers
A mobile app to assist health workers in rural areas, known as Dr Elsa, is currently working across 20 health facilities across Tanzania. The app, which uses Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning, is designed to support health workers to make more accurate diagnosis and make better decisions about a patient’s next steps.

Dr Elsa is a project of Inspired Ideas, an Arusha based organisation, working in partnership with the Ifakara Health Institute (IHI), the Tanzania Data Lab (dlab) and others.

Megan Allen, the Head of Operations for Inspired Ideas, explained that they are targeting rural areas in particular. “Initially, we wanted to use technology as a way to get people healthier and focus on the prevention side of things, but then we realised we can make a lot of impact at the point where people come into the healthcare centre to get services. The health infrastructure isn’t the same in rural areas as it is in urban areas, and similarly there are not as many doctors and specialists in rural parts of the country. This means that communities in these areas are not getting access to expertise.”

The app runs on a tablet operated by the healthcare worker. On meeting the patient, they input information about the patient, what symptoms they have, and their history. Dr Elsa will then generate further questions relevant to the specific case.

At the end, they get an assessment which shares the diseases that the patient is likely to have and the recommendations for the next steps. Dr Elsa is able to generate these questions and assessments thanks to the medical expertise and data that has been input into her, with a machine learning model. Megan says that this tool “puts the knowledge of specialist healthcare providers in the hands of a dispensary worker, so they can then use this to make better decisions.”

There are, of course, challenging with adopting such innovative tech­nology. Megan notes that while internet use is growing, it is still a chal­lenge in rural areas, and most technology will require a strong internet connection. She also notes that changing people’s attitude to technology and training medical staff on AI and new systems can be difficult.

Despite this, the new innovations in healthcare systems are proving to make services more accessible to those who would usually struggle to get quality care. The opportunities are significant. “Technology is making us all more connected than ever,” said Megan. “And in relation to healthcare that means we can bridge the gap between those who have the healthcare knowledge and those who need the services. We are moving in the right direction.”

Higher charges for Covid-19 tests
The Minister for Health, Dr Dorothy Gwajima, announced in January that everyone testing for Covid-19 will now have to pay TSh 230,000 or USD $100 irrespective of whether they are nationals or foreigners. This replaces the previous arrangement where Tanzanians were required to pay TSh 40,000, residents were charged TSh 70,000 and foreigners paid USD $100.

The Minister said results of the test would be obtained within 48 hours for travellers who are upcountry, whereas those in Dar es Salaam will get their results in 24 hours. In Dar es Salaam travellers can visit Muhimbili National Hospital, Amana Hospital in Ilala, Temeke Hospital, IST Clinic, or the Aga Khan Hospital, among other sites, for tests.

According to the ministry the rise of new Covid-19 variant across the world and technological changes in testing has forced the cost of testing for the disease to rise. “Some countries have requested an increase in IgM Antibody testing in conjunction with PCR and an increase in demand for sampling facilities,” said the Minister.

“Tanzania is one of the countries that has taken strong measures to control Covid-19 infections,” explained Dr Gwajima.

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